WASHINGTON — Plans to shrink the United States military to levels not seen since World War II are not sitting well with many U.S. lawmakers. Some expressed their frustration and anger to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
With U.S. troops in Afghanistan, waiting to come home, anger is boiling over in Washington over the Defense Department's proposed budget cuts.
Pointing to events in the Middle East and Ukraine, lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee challenged Hagel.
"This budget lacks a realistic assessment of the increased risks," said
Senator James Inhofe. "President Obama seems unwilling to accept that the tide of war is not receding."
Fellow Republican Senator John McCain was equally blunt.
"Your timing is exquisite. You're coming over here with a budget that we agree on, at least on the number, at a time when the world is probably more unsettled than it has been since the end of World War II," he said.
Hagel argued despite steep cuts, the proposed budget "matches resources to strategy."
"The events of the past week underscore the need for America's continued global engagement and leadership. The president's defense budget reflects that reality," said Hagel.
Caps imposed by Congress are forcing the Pentagon to cut its budget to less than $500 billion, down about $200 billion from wartime highs.
To do that, officials propose reducing the number of Army troops from 520,000 to about 440,000 - the lowest since 1940.
And they're looking at eliminating older equipment like Cold War A-10 attack jets, leaving what officials say would be a more modern force, better prepared to take on terrorists and more conventional forces.
It's all leaving lawmakers with a simple question.
"Does this preclude us from a full spectrum of operations?," asked Senator Jack Reed.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, admitted there are risks.
"One of those is the conventional fights, in particular land forces, which will take longer to generate," he said.
Hagel also warned against another $75 billion in cuts over the next two years under a budget deal struck by lawmakers last December.
"The result of sequestration level cuts would be a military that could not fulfill its defense strategy, putting at risk America's role as a guarantor of global security and ultimately its own security," he said.
The White House is proposing ways to free up additional funding for the military to help ease the pain, but it will be up to lawmakers to decide if and how that happens.